Tech

Justice Department charges two former Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia

Key Points
  • The Department of Justice on Wednesday charged two former Twitter employees for spying on users on behalf of Saudi Arabia. 
  • The charges allege that Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo used their employee credentials to access information about specific Twitter users, including their email addresses, birth dates, phone numbers and internet protocol addresses.
VIDEO4:2604:26
Here's what the spying probe into two former Twitter employees means

The Department of Justice on Wednesday charged two former Twitter employees for spying on users on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

The charges allege that Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo used their employee credentials to access information about specific Twitter users, including their email addresses, birth dates, phone numbers and internet protocol addresses. A third individual, Ahmed Almutairi, was also charged for acting as an intermediary between the Twitter employees and the Saudi government, the Justice Department said.

"We will not allow U.S. companies or U.S. technology to become tools of foreign repression in violation of U.S. law," U.S. Attorney David Anderson said in a statement.

The Washington Post previously reported the news.

Alzabarah and Almutairi are believed to be in Saudi Arabia while Abouammo was arrested in Seattle on Tuesday.

VIDEO2:5602:56
Twitter has reached peak margins, says Evercore analyst

The three men face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Abouammo faces an additional 20 years and another $250,000 fine for lying to FBI agents, the Justice Department said.

Abouammo is a U.S. citizen and worked at Twitter from November 2013 until May 2015 as a media partnerships manager for the Middle East and North Africa regions, the charges said. Alzabarah is a Saudi citizen and worked for Twitter from August 2013 until December 2015 as a site reliability engineer, according to a copy of the charges.

The charges allege that Abouammo used his credentials to access the email addresses and phone numbers of multiple Twitter users who were critics of the Saudi royal family. After leaving Twitter, Abouammo allegedly continued to contact his former colleagues with requests that they take down and verify certain accounts at the direction of foreign officials, the charges said.

Alzabarah, meanwhile, used his employee credentials to access the private information of more than 6,000 Twitter users, the charges allege.

"Our company limits access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees," a Twitter spokeswoman said in a statement. "We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable."

WATCH: Here's how to see which apps have access to your Facebook data — and cut them off

VIDEO1:1001:10
Here's how to see which apps have access to your Facebook data — and cut them off